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House Ethics Rules Should Not Be Weakened To Let DeLay Remain House Majority Leader if Indicted

Update, posted 11/19/04: The proposal described here was later modified in a four-hour, closed-door meeting of the House Republican caucus. The policy that won in a secret vote was authored by Rep. Bill Thomas’ (R-Calif.) and states that a 28-member steering committee of the party caucus has the discretion to remove from leadership a member under indictment – whether by state or federal grand jury – within 30 days. Few House Republicans said how they voted on the rule change, although Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.) estimated about 30 caucus members voted against the rule change of about 200 members present.

Nov. 17, 2004

House Ethics Rules Should Not Be Weakened To Let DeLay Remain House Majority Leader if Indicted

Statement of Joan Claybrook, Public Citizen President

In the frantic special session of Congress under way, House Republicans are rewriting House ethics rules to protect Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) from himself. Specifically, a handful of lawmakers are attempting to rescind the rule that would force DeLay to temporarily resign his leadership post if he is indicted for criminal activity in Texas until the case is resolved. Public Citizen strongly condemns any effort by House Republicans to insulate DeLay from the consequences of his ethical lapses.

The House ethics rule dates back to 1993, when House Republicans wanted then-House Ways and Means Chairperson Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) to be held accountable for his own ethics violations. In the early 1990s, DeLay helped lead the floor fight for tougher ethics requirements, resulting in the rule that members of the House cannot serve as leaders while under indictment for violating state or federal laws. DeLay complained that the House had become poorly managed because of disregard for the rules.

Today’s rule change, proposed by Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-Texas), would end the penalty only for House leaders indicted by a state grand jury, as in DeLay’s potential situation.

It is bad enough that the Republican caucus reaffirmed DeLay as House majority leader, given the three admonishments he has received recently from the House ethics committee. But it is an affront to all Americans that House Republicans would rewrite the ethics rules to allow DeLay to continue serving even while under indictment.  

Public Citizen’s new Web page called “DeThrone DeLay – Clean Up the House,” at www.dethronedelay.org, serves as a clearinghouse for information related to the ethical challenges and undemocratic actions of DeLay. Posted on the page are histories of DeLay’s ethical lapses and his autocratic leadership; House ethics committee admonishments of DeLay; Public Citizen complaints against DeLay sent to the ethics committee, the IRS and the Department of Justice; Texas grand jury indictments against his associates; media investigative reports on DeLay; and editorials and other related information.